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Helping or Enabling?

Posted by Jennifer Turner on

Many times as we were dealing with our addicted child we thought we were doing things to help them out of the hole they had dug.  But as we have learned, more often than not, we were doing more harm than good. Sometimes you just have to give them the shovel and let them do the digging. What do I mean by that? Well, they made the mess and they need to be the one to clean it up!  There's nothing wrong with guiding, advising, and assisting but they have to be the one that has some skin in the game.   They have to feel the discomfort of correcting their wrongs and/or suffering the consequences.  We would step in and do things that they should be doing, like making phone calls, paying phone bills they "forgot" to pay and if their phone got shut off they wouldn't be able to receive that important call announcing they got that great job they had applied for. Yeah right. We would put gas in their car, or give them money for cigarettes. We would make excuses for their behavior to family and friends, to cover up the truth that they were an addict.  I would drive all over town getting stuff that they should have taken care of so I could make their lives easier.  We would bail them out of jail several times, and pay for lawyers to get the charge dropped or reduced so they wouldn't have a tarnished record.  We convinced ourselves that we could love them out of their addiction.  And as parents, my husband and I was just helping them deal with their mistakes.  We were so very wrong and it was only after we acknowledged that our "helping" did nothing to change their behavior, but it did change ours. Each time we reached out the proverbial helping hand it got bit over and over.  It left us feeling used, betrayed, duped, and unappreciated.  We knew our behavior had to change before we could expect them to change. 

So after we gave over all control of our children to God, to heal or take home, we focused on healing ourselves.  We attended classes that helped us to learn the difference between helping, and enabling. We were guilty of everyone of the bullet points presented in the class. We were helping them in their cover up and avoid the consequences for their actions. No jail, no disconnected phone, no taking the bus instead of car, no nicotine withdrawal, no homelessness, no embarrassment, and really no consequences for their bad behavior.  When we started learning about OUR behavior, and changed it, then we started seeing things change within our child. We began to use the line "we're sorry you are going through that. I'm sure you will figure something out", and left it in their court to resolve. Addicts are creative and they will figure out a way to get what they want.  With time, they realized that we weren't going to believe their lies, or help them in any way unless they were trying to get clean.  We also began living our lives focusing on our needs and wants and took the focus off of "fixing" them.  This approach became very apparent to our addicted child, they stopped asking for anything.  They knew that we weren't going to aid them to their death.  That also was the turning point for them because they had to suffer the full separation from us to realize that this drugged life was not what they wanted.  So it was by our changing first that then resulted in our child's change. We could then cautiously help them without enabling them.  This allowed all of us to heal.  

If you need help deciding if your behavior is enabling or helping then ask yourself, "am I keeping them from the consequences of their behavior?"  If you say yes, then more than likely you are enabling.  Their are plenty of courses to learn the difference, and I encourage you to work on changing YOU before you can help to change them!   God bless you!


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